SPARTANBURG, SC (WSPA) — South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Joe Cunningham (D) is hoping that people in the state are ready for a change in political leadership. He’s proposing term limits to prevent career politicians; and the legalization of marijuana and sports betting to improve education and infrastructure in the state.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Here’s what he said:

The candidate

I live in West Ashley, Charleston. I have a four-year-old boy who’s going to school. I jumped into the political fray back in 2017-2018 because I thought that our country needed fewer career politicians and more people who actually want to make a difference.

I served one term in Congress and now running for governor because I believe we’re a state of winners on the field, and on the court. We have the best people in the country but we also have the worst politicians. That’s the only reason to explain why we have the worst roads in the country, why our schools are at the bottom, why our teacher pays at the bottom or health care or jobs, all these things.

And you look at career politicians like Governor McMaster, who has been doing this for almost half a century. And you realize that these people are not moving on like they should. Our founding fathers never intended for people to make a career out of politics, but people like him made it one.

So I am running for governor to provide our state with a new vision, new leadership, new blood, and new ideas.

How do you first get involved in politics?

I feel like just the divisiveness that’s existed in our political system over the last several years and it’s been building and building and building. And who’s to blame for that? I think the blame rests with people who have made a living out of it, like Henry McMaster, who’s been a politician literally longer than I’ve been alive. And I believe they have to take responsibility for it.

So that’s why I want term limits and age limits on politicians because I don’t think that it should be a career. I don’t think you should serve for 30, 40, or 50 years. I think that most people in South Carolina feel exactly the same way.

What strategies have you found useful as underdogs in a largely Republican state?

I think South Carolina is similar to what you see in other parts of the country. It’s maybe a conservative state, but it’s not an extremist state, but the fact is that we’re being led by an extremist politician.

Henry McMaster wants to ban all abortions with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother. Our country and our state particularly are being led by the extremes. And most of us are fairly moderate, you know, in Congress, I was ranked the fourth most bipartisan member in Congress, the fourth most effective out of 435 members.

I told Nancy Pelosi that would not support her for speaker of the House. I voted against her.

I was the first Democrat to come out and say that Joe Biden shouldn’t run for reelection.

I know what it’s like to push back against people in my own party. Henry McMaster has never, never done that. And so I believe that folks want an independent thinker.

People want a leader that will represent the people and not a party, and that’s what our campaign has been about. We’ve put forth ideas surrounding a message of freedom. Give women the freedom to control their own bodies. That’s something that Henry McMaster doesn’t agree with. Give people more freedom by legalizing marijuana, and legalizing sports betting. Then use that money to pay our teachers more and fix our roads.

Also moving to eliminate the state income tax. You earned that money, you should keep more of that in your own pocket. So that message of freedom, I think, rings across the aisle, whether it be Democratic or Republican.

Has Henry McMaster given you any political opportunities you can take advantage of during the campaign?

I’ll put it to you this way. We live in a state where we fire football coaches after a couple of losing seasons. Henry McMaster has been a politician longer than I’ve been alive, almost half a century.

You pull up his record and we get the highest crime rate we’ve ever had . . . because he cares more about selling guns and getting guns in the hands of even if people shouldn’t have them as opposed to taking care of our kids, keeping our community safe.

He’s got political appointments for judges, judges that are letting criminals re-offend and letting them back out on the street. He’s not keeping our state safe. We have the worst roads in America; we have teacher pay and healthcare at the bottom. So after his long record of losing, he’s coming to us asking for a four-year extension on his contract. And I think voters are smarter than that. They can look at that and be like, “This is what you’ve given us after being in politics for almost half a century is being at the bottom of all these different categories.”

It’s time for a new vision. It’s time for new leadership. It’s time for new blood. And that’s what we’re running on as well as new ideas.

In the last few weeks before the election, you are touring SC colleges to promote your candidacy among younger voters. Can you talk about those plans?

We were at Wofford College today. We’re going all across the state. Tomorrow we will be at Clemson University and Furman University. It’s engaging young voters. It’s engaging people where they are.

And so that’s whatever building or business or college or university. But sometimes it will be through mediums like TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. It’s these young voters who are going to inherit this mess that Henry McMaster has created. I mean, again, this guy’s been in politics for almost 50 years and he’s made this mess.

Our roads are a mess, our crimes are a mess. And this new generation that’s got to pick up the pieces. So reminding them there’s a lot at stake and we’re engaging them and reminding them why they should get out and vote — not just going up there to shame them by telling them that they should. We’re giving them a reason to go out and vote because of our new ideas we’re proposing

Everyone agrees that South Carolina can be a great state. Everyone agrees that we have the best people in the entire country. But everyone also agrees that we have the worst politicians, too.

And if our elected officials would rise to meet the level of the people they represent, South Carolina’s potential would be unstoppable. Unfortunately, we’ve reelected leaders like Henry McMaster who has led us to the bottom of every single category that we should be at the top of.

Can you talk about some experiences that have been significant events for you?

You know, I dropped my son off at school and the door opens, and I see a brand new teacher. Your heart kind of sinks a little bit because you think you see a new face, a new teacher, and you think all those bonds and all those things that the last teacher learned about my kid, all of a sudden that knowledge is gone. We’re hitting the reset button. We’re starting from scratch.

So with our teachers leaving in droves, these aren’t just numbers. These are actual people. My oldest brother is a special ed teacher. It’s his 20th year teaching this year, and he says he’s done, he’s done after this year, and we’re losing so many good teachers, very, very good teachers because we don’t have any leadership.

I want a 10% raise across the board for teachers and a starting salary of $50,000 a year.

We have a plan to do that by legalizing marijuana, legalizing sports betting, and giving people the freedom to do those things. That’s what our campaign’s been about. New ideas. It’s been a contrast between our “new ideas” and McMaster’s “no ideas.”

What are your thoughts on how abortion legislation has progressed in the state?

This assault on our personal freedoms that Governor McMaster has waged, especially for women. If he wants full government control over women’s health, I want everybody to imagine how scary that is. If politicians can tell women what to do with their own body, there are no bounds to it. The government can say or do anything.

And so we’re putting a stop to it and reminding folks that the only thing standing in the way of full government control of women’s bodies is my veto pen. And again, it’s time for a new generation of leadership. It’s time for new blood. It’s time for a new vision. That’s what we’re providing.

For more information about the candidate, visit Joe for South Carolina